LESIJ NO. XXV, VOL. 1/2018
SHANG YANG AND LEGALIST REFORM IN THE
ANCIENT CHINESE STATE OF QIN
Legalism has played a major role in the history of the Chinese lega l a nd governmental
tradition. One of the major exponents a nd formulators of this school of thought in ancient times was
Shang Yang, an official in the state of Qin. Shang Yang oversaw a progra m of la w reform in Qin in
such ar eas as criminal law and the economic life of the country which aimed to strengthen the power
of the state. This can be said to have had long ter m consequences for both Chinese and world history,
in that the strengthening and r eorganization of Qin a long the lines of Legalist principles helped lead
to its gaining preeminence amongst the other sta tes vying for influence in the Warr ing States period,
ultimately leading to the unification of China under the rule of the Qin dynasty.
Keywords: Shang Yang, Legalism, law reform, Qin state, cr iminal law, economic regulation
Throughout much of the history of the
Chinese legal and governmental tradition,
two different schools of thought have been
portrayed as competing and coexisting at the
same time; these are the Legalists and
the Confucians .
1 Both sought to
maintain social order, yet differed in the
primary methods through which they sought
to achieve this end.2 The Legalists generally
believed in increasing the power of the ruler
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education/Az Igazságügyi Minisztérium jogászképzés színvonalának emelését célzó programjai keretében valósult meg.
Junior Research Fellow, MTA-DE Public Service Research Group, Lecturer and PhD Student, Géza Marton
Doctoral School of Legal Studies, Faculty of Law, University of Debrecen, (e-mail: email@example.com).
1 Xin Ren: Tradition of the Law and the Law of the Tradition: Law, State, a nd Social Control in China,
Greenwood Press, Conneticut, 1997, p. 19.
2 T’ung-Tsu Chu: Law and Society in Traditional China, Mouton, Paris, 1961, p. 226.
3 Yongping Liu: Origins of Chinese Law: Penal and Administrative Law in its Early Development, Oxford
University Press, Oxford, 1998, p. 173.
4 Zhengyuan Fu: Autocratic Tradition and Chinese Politics, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1993, p. 30.
5 Ren op. cit., p. 19.
6 Herrlee G. Creel: Chinese Though from Confucius to Mao Tse-tung, 1953, p. 141.
through written laws that would strengthen
the power of the state,3 while the
Confucians, whose beliefs are seen as a
manifestation of fe udal and traditional
Chinese values,4 placed more emphasis upon
the idea that the ruler had to support and
adhere to a certain moralistic order, which
involved following proper rules of
proprietary and behaviour.5 An important
member of the Legalist school was Shang
Yang, an official in the state of Qin during
the fourth centur y B.C.6 two areas in which
he had a particularly strong influence were
criminal law and in regulation of the